Justices to hear oral arguments in canceled insurance, Red Lobster cases next week

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The Indiana Supreme Court bench. (IL file photo)

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear two oral arguments next week in cases involving a challenge to a company’s termination of a couple’s auto insurance policy and a lower court’s denial of restaurant chain Red Lobster’s summary judgment motion against a woman who filed suit after falling in one of its restaurants.

The first argument will be held at 9 a.m. Dec. 14 in the Supreme Court Courtroom in the Statehouse. The case is Christine Cosme and Roy Cosme v. Debora A. Warfield Clark, Dan Churilla, d/b/a Churilla Insurance, and Erie Insurance Exchange, 22A-CT-1897.

According to court records, Roy and Christine Cosme were notified by Erie Insurance Exchange that their auto insurance policy would be canceled if they failed to submit paperwork excluding their then-19-year-old son, whose driver’s license had been suspended by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, from their insurance policy.

The Cosmes declined, so Erie canceled their policy.

Three days later, the Cosmes were in an accident.

Erie denied coverage, so the Cosmes filed suit against the other driver involved in the accident, Erie and their insurance agent, Dan Churilla.

At the conclusion of the Cosmes’ case-in-chief, Churilla and Erie moved for judgment on the evidence, which the Lake Superior Court granted.

The Cosmes filed a motion to correct error and a demand for a new trial, both of which were denied.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed in a March memorandum decision, finding the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the Cosmes’ motion to correct error or finding that the Cosmes failed to present sufficient evidence to qualitatively prove their claim that Erie acted in bad faith. The appellate court also agreed with the trial court that the Cosmes could not prove they were entitled to an award of punitive damages.

The Cosmes have petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court to accept jurisdiction over the appeal.

In October, the high court invited amici briefs in the case to address the question of whether it should clarify or modify its framework regarding motions for judgment on the evidence.

Then at 10 a.m. on Dec. 14, the justices will hear oral arguments in Red Lobster Restaurants, LLC,  Progressive Flooring Services, Inc., and Dwayne Featheroff v. Abigail Fricke, 23S-CT-304.

In that case, Abigail Fricke filed a Chapter 13 petition for bankruptcy with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Two years later, in December 2019, Fricke visited a Red Lobster restaurant in Indianapolis and tripped on an unmarked elevated portion of the floor. The following August, she sued for negligence.

In response to an interrogatory, Fricke answered “no” when she was asked if she had ever been party to a civil, criminal or bankruptcy action.

Red Lobster filed a motion for summary judgment in May 2021, asserting Fricke was judicially estopped and lacked standing due to her bankruptcy action.

In response, Fricke explained that she didn’t intend to mislead by not disclosing her bankruptcy case. She included an affidavit, which Red Lobster attempted to strike for being contradictory to her previous sworn interrogatory answers.

After a hearing, the Marion Superior Court denied both Red Lobster’s motion to strike and its motion for summary judgment.

Red Lobster appealed.

The COA affirmed, rejecting Red Lobster’s arguments that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied the motion to strike Fricke’s affidavit and erred when it denied the restaurant’s motion for summary judgment. The appellate court also that ruled Fricke had standing because she sustained a direct injury.

Both arguments will be livestreamed.

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